Bionic Robotics: Autonomous Biohybrid Machines powered by skeletal muscle tissues

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Chemistry


The inspiration from this project lies in the ability of living organisms to interact with and adapt to the changing environment in real time. The Bionic Robotics seeks to develop machines using biologicallyinspired functionality, to create new designs that can interact more effectively with the natural environment. Conventional robotics use rigid components powered by hard actuation techniques, such as hydraulic and electromagnetic systems. These well-developed robotic systems have wide applications in industry, however suffer from poor autonomy, low adaptability to dynamic environments, and low scalability. Bionic robotics, inspired by living organisms, aim to endow existing robots with sensing and response capabilities to allow them to autonomously interact with unstructured environments. This project will develop an autonomous soft robotic system. It is powered by biohybrid actuators, and capable of both monitoring its biomolecular environment and responding through changes in motion.
Living components will be integrated into the robot in two fundamental areas: living-cell actuation and bacteria-based biosensing. These two components will be linked using electronic control circuitry. Specifically, this project aims to:
- Create a new biohybrid actuator based on skeletal muscle cells: living cell-based actuation uses the intrinsic motion of cells from contractile tissues to generate motion. It uses molecular motors hierarchically organised to form macroscopic artificial contractile tissues. Skeletal muscle tissue is an attractive candidate for the construction of biohybrid actuators. It can be engineered from the millimetre to meter length and be readily controlled using external stimulation. The student will investigate how these living systems operate and how they can be efficiently used in bionic robotics. Skeletal muscle can be controlled either by electricity or light. Electrical stimulation will be used for initial development of a system. However, this has been shown to induce the degradation of the skeletal muscle tissues over time, hence an optical stimulation approach (via optogenetics) will also be investigated.
- Build a biosensing interface: living cell-based robots are currently limited by their ability to communicate and respond to complex microenvironments. Creating new communication bridges between machine and surroundings are essential. The student will explore the use of the bacteria Escherichia coli (E.coli) for demonstration to enable communication between the external environment and robotic controlling system. We will choose Isopropyl beta-D-1thiogalactopyranoside (IPTG) as a common chemical inducer. With the presence of IPTG, genetically modified E.coli can express a green fluorescent protein (GFP), which will be detected by the following electronic system.
- Develop an electronic control system to facilitate communication between actuator and biosensor: the student will develop an electronic interface based on off-the-shelf components to exchange information between the biosensor and cell-actuator. Light-emitting diodes and photodetectors will be used to excite and detect the fluorescence change from the biosensor which will be interpreted by an embedded microprocessor and used to stimulate the livingcell actuator through light pulses


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023518/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2028
2452500 Studentship EP/S023518/1 03/10/2020 30/09/2023 Lino Prados Martin